Rewatching Naya Rivera’s “If I Die Young” musical tribute, Cory Monteith’s “Don’t Stop Believin” rendition, and Mark Salling’s “Only the Good Die Young” performance on YouTube ceaselessly bring tears to my eyes. Known for portraying Santana Lopez, Finn Hudson, and Noah “Puck” Puckerman on Ryan Murphy’s FOX musical comedy-drama Glee, all three talented actors passed away in their 30’s. As Rivera’s death fell on the seven year anniversary of Monteith’s passing last Monday and within three years of Salling’s death, we remember their legacies and significant contributions towards the show’s magic as the aforementioned iconic glee club members.
From bullying and addiction to teen pregnancy and coming-of-age sexuality, Glee is perhaps one of the greatest teenage trailblazing television shows of the twenty-first century. Honored with countless Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe, Teen Choice, Satellite, GLAAD Media, People’s Choice, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, the six-season series fearlessly pushed boundaries while uniquely highlighting universal teenage experiences.
Centered around a suburban Ohio high school’s diverse glee club, New Directions, Glee navigates a plethora of social issues as students prepare for the annual show choir competition. With music director and Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) at the helm of the group, and notorious cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) seizing every opportunity to stunt their growth, New Directions ultimately embrace each others’ differences through a mutual passion for singing, dancing, and winning.
Starring alongside a massive cast of A-list personality glee club characters: Rachel (Lea Michele), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Artie (Kevin McHale), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Quinn (Dianna Agron), Brittany (Heather Morris), Sam (Chord Overstreet), Mike (Harry Shum Jr.), and Blaine (Darren Criss); Santana, Finn, and Puck serve as some of the series’ strongest individuals. Not simply because of their musical performances, but rather their personal development and ability to connect with struggling high schoolers beyond measure.
In contrast from the ensemble’s relatively straightforward two-dimensionality, Santana, Finn, and Puck experience metamorphosis in a raw fashion. Raised in a culture of Social Darwinism, the popular trio defies high school stereotypes along their journeys toward self-discovery. They gradually blossom from cold-hearted, judgmental athletes into sensitive, acquiescent classmates, comparably finding their distinct voices amidst the chaos of adolescence.
Channeling High School Musical‘s Troy Bolton, Finn proves that it is cool for boys to sing, eradicating the common notion of teenage male vocalists being sissy or lame. Instead of choosing between the polarizing jock and musical nerd social groups, he merges them together, becoming the glee club’s role model and epicenter of the show’s community.
Santana shatters glass ceilings as television’s first openly lesbian Latina, prioritizing her sexuality over her queen bee status. Exhausted from succumbing to Sue Sylvester’s toxic cheer culture and maintaining a flawless mean girl reputation, she eventually embraces her individuality through a fresh IDGAF mentality, reconciling differences with family and marrying best friend Brittany.
In addition to Finn and Santana’s dynamic self-actualization, Puck subsequently overcomes self-esteem issues by managing his rage through music, familial bonding, and discipline. As the seasons progress, he mentors his half-brother and enlists in the Air Force, transitioning from a selfish womanizer into a caring friend and loving father.
Naya Rivera, Cory Monteith, and Mark Salling all undeniably immersed themselves in relatable situations while sharing a common bond throughout their characters’ maturation. Their trend-setting performances continuously inspire millions of viewers to overcome adversities through music, inevitably opening doors of creative realism for current primetime visual content. Their presence is greatly missed, and I have no doubt that they formed their own show choir above.
For those who have never watched Glee, now is the perfect time to start! Take a trip to William McKinley High School and stream all six seasons on Netflix.